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“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Alex Gardiner for 22 years, since my first World Junior Athletics Championship in 1990, and Martin Goulet almost as long. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Alex and Martin and wish them well in their next venture. In all my dealings with both Alex and Martin both as an athlete and as a former member of the Board of Directors they have been nothing but professional and focused on improving the competitiveness of Canadian Athletics on the global scene,” says Kevin Sullivan, one of Canada’s most successful middle-distance runners. Sullivan owns an outstanding 1500m personal best time of 3:31.71 and has run the mile as fast as 3:50.26. Sullivan finished fifth in the Olympics in one of the most competitive events in all of sports.
Sullivan continues, “Alex and Martin set lofty yet realistic goals for our Athletics teams at the World Championships and Olympics. Unfortunately when lofty goals are set they are not always achieved and that is not always the fault of the Head Coach or the Director of High Performance. It is practically impossible to predict with certainty how a high performance team will perform at the very highest level and things such as injury, retirement, pregnancy, disqualifications, or just plain bad luck can throw a wrench into even the best laid plans. I also have tremendous respect for Athletics Canada CEO Rob Guy and know that this certainly could not have been an easy decision and it certainly will not be easy to fill the roles of Alex and Martin, who have been such integral parts of Athletics in Canada for many decades.”
On January, 23rd Guy, announced the dismissal of Chief High Performance Officer, Martin Goulet and Olympic program Head Coach Alex Gardiner. The two were relieved of their duties in respect to the poor results by Team Canada in athletics during the 2012 London Olympic Games. London was likely the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, as Canada has won a total of two medals in the sport of Athletics since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Canada won zero medals in Sydney, zero during the 2004 Athens Games, one each in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games. That is not enough for Canadian athletes, their fans or Guy.
Guy said, “The feeling after London (2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games) was generally encouraging…” and, “However we still didn’t hit our performance targets of three and fourteen medals respectively. We felt we needed a different style and leadership structure to ensure we reach our high performance objectives moving forward.”
Athletes echoed similar sentiments towards the news of Gardiner’s and Goulet’s departure to their own fate that they face when they, themselves do not perform well. Athletes feel that executives should also be held accountable.
Three-time Olympian and former British 10,000m record holder Jon Brown expressed as much. He was subject to funding cuts at the hands of British Athletics late in his career due to age and injury, he said, “I think this decision reflects well on AC as it shows they are acknowledging staff accountability.” Brown added, “The athletes are accountable every time they compete, so it is right that staff also need to be held accountable to performance targets.”
Brown finished fourth in the marathon event at the Sydney and Athens Olympics, missing bronze by seven and fifteen seconds, respectively. His 10,000m personal best is 27:19. He ran the marathon in 2:09 twice and won two European Cross Country Championships. “High performance sport takes no prisoners unfortunately, and I sympathize with both Alex and Martin,” said Brown.
The announcement came as a surprise to some, for example Dave Scott-Thomas repeated Sullivan’s feelings, “I’ve known both Alex and Martin for a long time. They have been such a consistent part of the landscape of Canadian track and field for me for decades that I’ve yet to absorb what it might look like without their involvement. So, while my head adjusts to the change, my first feelings are that I hope both of the guys and their families are healthy and happy.” Scott-Thomas is the head coach of both the Canadian number one ranked University of Guelph Gryphons and the successful Speed River Track Club.
Simon Bairu is the seven-time Canadian Cross Country Champion and Canadian 10,000m record holder with his personal best time of 27:23.63. Bairu shared similar sentiments as Scott-Thomas saying, “I first met Goulet almost 14 years ago, and in that time he’s always been very supportive of me and Canadian distance running in general. There was only so much he could do, but every time I talked to him you could tell he was very passionate about the sport. I respect AC’s decision, but on a personal level I’m very thankful for his support throughout the years and he’ll be missed.”
Bairu is currently competing in Jamaica at the NACAC Cross Country Championships. His talent and previous results transcend Athletics Canada qualification rules as he did not compete in the National Cross Country Championships like other were required to. Finishing twelfth in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships carries weight, even with the most inflexible beaurocrats.
As much as Goulet and Gardiner may have had the respect of athletes and coaches, there are some who are celebrating the departures for example Malindi Elmore shared her feelings by saying, “This is a positive direction for AC.” And, “I am relieved to hear that change is finally happening. I think this is the perfect timing for new leadership and energy within the organization.”
Elmore is a 1500m specialist who just missed competing in the 2012 London Olympics Games however; she did represent Canada at the 2004 Athens Games as well as the 1998, 2004 and 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. She added, “As athletes, we are constantly held accountable and are only as good as our last race or season, and AC has managed to fall short of meeting goals for many years now, so it is it time for leadership to be held accountable. I have been advocating for change for several years on a number of issues and I am hopeful that AC can find the right leadership team to be able to bring the amazing coaches and athletes in our country to the next level while continuing to support grassroots development.”
Diane Cummins who has defied age and defied Athletics Canada’s suggestion that age has caught up to her was quick with her opinion as she is on the track, “These two leaders have been around for quite a while, so I think change is good.”
Cummins is a decorated 800m runner. She holds the Canadian record of 1:58.39 and has won two bronze and one silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, gold in the Pan-American Games and has finished fifth in the IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Cummins is a ten-time Canadian 800m champion. It may not be a stretch to suggest that she would be holding the door for Goulet and Gardiner as they made their way out.
“I was surprised to see that Martin and Alex were let go. While I may not have agreed with all of their decisions, I believe their hearts were in the right place. Whoever their successors are, I can imagine that they’ll be in the same position that Martin and Alex found themselves in; a very delicate and high-pressured situation of trying to manage long term strategic planning while simultaneously being held accountable for short term results,” offered Jessica Zelinka.
Zelinka holds the Canadian record in the heptathlon and is a three-time Olympian, who has finished top-5 in the Olympics and has won gold in the Pan-American Games and silver in the Commonwealth Games. She has also finished seventh in the hurdles and heptathlon at the London Games.
Stellingwerff offered the following: “I have a lot of respect for both Martin and Alex, having worked with them as an athlete representative, as well as a national team athlete. We are in one of the most competitive sports in the world where performance on the global level is extremely difficult to predict and that was a tough part of their job. The reality is sport is tough, we all have our performance targets – it’s no different for athletes who get dropped from shoe sponsors or don’t get carded when they don’t perform. I don’t doubt Martin and Alex’s dedication and passion for the sport and I wish them all the best in the future.”
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